14th November 2023 16:52
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne
Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (16:52):
I rise to make a contribution to the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 on behalf of Legalise Cannabis Victoria. This omnibus bill includes a significant number of legislative changes that I will not canvass. Instead I would like to single out the aspect of this bill that responds to the work of Legalise Cannabis Victoria in this Parliament: the creation of a closed-circuit research track trial in medicinal cannabis and driving. This trial is a step forward for medicinal cannabis patients to safely get on the road in Victoria. It is a slow step, but it is a step. Daily we get calls from medicinal cannabis patients who continue to be impacted by the current road laws, and I do look forward to seeing the outcome of this trial in due process.
In relation to this bill, it advances the preceding work of the medicinal cannabis and safe driving working group that was established in 2019. Their 2020–21 report recommended an assessment of driving behaviour of medicinal cannabis patients. Most notably, this trial is a direct response to the Road Safety Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2023 we introduced earlier this year. That bill was adjourned upon a commitment from this government to address the unfair treatment of medicinal cannabis patients.
It is good to see this commitment being delivered on, but it is a slow process and thousands of medicinal cannabis patients in Victoria will continue to be discriminated against under the current driving laws. They are treated differently to every other patient prescribed a medicine in Victoria, irrespective of how impairing those other medications may be.
It must be said that we expect this trial to have a similar outcome to the dozens of studies – replicated many times over, internationally and domestically – that demonstrate medicinal cannabis patients can drive safely.
There is nothing about this driving trial that is necessarily unique. While this government works to replicate existing research, thousands of medicinal cannabis patients must wait until the end of 2024 for their chance to legally drive.
Victoria was the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis in 2016, and ever since then patients have had to wait for equal treatment on our roads.
I appreciate that both sides of the chamber today have raised this valid point. The fact is that we have had medicinal cannabis, that it has been legal since 2016 and that we need to find a pathway forward for these patients – because there is no reason why a patient should be treated any differently based on their medical choices.
We hear from patients, many patients, about how bitterly disappointed they are by yet another delay in getting back to normal life. These patients are prescribed medicine by their doctor, manage their use so they do not drive impaired and yet they face the risk of losing their licence and being fined or detained just because of the way medicinal cannabis can be detected in the body for days and in some cases weeks after it was ever capable of having an impairing effect.
It is the young mother with chronic pain doing the morning school drop-offs for her kids. It is the tradie with a bad back on his way to a job site. It is the cancer patient driving to her doctor’s appointment. They all take a legally prescribed medication, never drive while impaired and yet they all live in fear of losing their licences under our current driving laws. We will always advocate that absolutely no-one should be driving impaired, but people who have been prescribed a medicine and can drive safely should be allowed to drive. This is how we treat every other single prescription medication in Victoria except medicinal cannabis, and it is time for this to be corrected.
I understand from the debate in the Legislative Assembly that many members of the opposition had an appetite for further detail on this trial – who it would include, how participants are able to travel to and from the trial and where it will be. I can assure you that this is an appetite we share, and we look forward to working alongside government in co-designing all elements of this process.
I thank the minister and her staff for their ongoing dialogue on this issue. Legalise Cannabis Victoria lends its support to this bill whilst pushing government to get out of the slow lane and have this trial finalised as quickly as possible. There should be no barriers for medicinal cannabis patients who can safely get on the road.